Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation. Cows, steers, road construction and legendary wind are the main signs of life. People, however, they usually come from elsewhere, just temporarily, for a brief glimpse at the last frontier.
With more cattle than full-time residents, Wyoming beef is legendary. Even the road signs tout its merits: “Wyoming Beef – it’s just good”
After four days climbing outside of Lander, Wyoming, I’d worked up an appetite. And nothing tasted better than a thick cut of Wyoming’s finest. Roaming the endless pastures and holding up traffic, grazing alongside the miles of tic-tac-toe fencing which protects denizens from harsh winter snowdrifts, Wyoming beef comes from undisturbed cattle with nothing but time and space, to wander.
Headed back towards the border we missed the exit to Baggs, the one and only road to take us back to our part of Colorful Colorado.
Rather, I missed the exit.
Bruce Springsteen’s Devils and Dust was on the box, blending with the stark landscape and the gathering storm clouds; I was deep in road-trip-trance, lost in my thoughts. It was 70 miles later before I realized we, too, were lost.
* * *
By the time we backtracked to Exit187 and the requisite fireworks stand – Wyoming’s most tell-tale sign of civilization – we’d worked up a powerful hunger, one to rival that of a hard-working cowboy rounding up the day’s last cattle. Unfortunately, it was 10:32 p.m., and Baggs was asleep. 60 miles later, the Subway in Craig, Colorado was the only sign of life.
My friend Chris ordered the cold cut combo, extra mayo. Thick honey mustard. Hours earlier I’d wolfed down a Bison Burger from the Lander Bar, with guacamole, chipotle mayo and melted pepper jack. No questions asked.
Now, with similar conviction, I ordered the veggie delight. No mayo, no sauce. Dry. And melted pepper jack.
Chris scoffed, then challenged my bland cravings: What, no sauce? Jesus. Nothing? Isn’t it gonna get stuck in your throat? I told him to worry about his own hoagie; if there was no Wyoming beef on the menu, I’d go sauce- less. And meat-free.
He coughed feebly then pointed to his tongue, indicating imminent hairball removal. We shared a good-natured, late-night laugh, the kind that comes from hours on the road, traveling across desolate stretches of land and missing exits and passing time in comfortable, companionable silence.
We made our way towards Meeker, then Rifle, finally home to Aspen by 1:37 a.m. I awoke around noon, still hungry for the weekend and the memories, and still craving the quality of Wyoming beef.
Kenichi Aspen is a far cry from Baggs, Wyoming. And Exit 187. Culture, ambiance and creatively prepared Asian Fusion are nowhere near Craig, Colorado, or the Kum and Go in Meeker.
But Kenichi knows the Japanese Cowboy. Kenichi Aspen serves a grade of beef reminiscent of the remarkable tastes of Wyoming. The next day, still savoring the flavor of neighboring fields, I head to Kenichi, home of Akaushi Kobe Beef, Harris Ranch Natural Gyu Tenda and Japanese Cowboy 16 0z bone-in ribeye. Akaushi cattle hail from the Mt. Aso region in Japan. They’re a protected breed, a national treasure of Japan and the only 100% source verified beef in the U.S.
Over a crisp carafe of house sake, I wonder about the Japanese Cowboys. Have they ever wandered to Wyoming? Do they enjoy a tall Sapporo after a hard day in the field;or do they drink whiskey on cold nights and ride off into the sunset? Stereotypes flying, I sit down for the best beef I can get – across state lines.
For more details on world-class beef, http://www.kenichiaspen.com. And if you’re a Japanese Cowboy, I’d love to hear from you.